AFTER the huge success of the cataract buses, which have already brought 250 people from the South West to Belfast for life-changing surgery, now a similar service for hip and knee replacements has been launched.
The knee & hip ‘express’ was announced this week by West Cork’s Independent TD Michael Collins, who has been organising the cross-border surgeries with his Dail colleague, Kerry TD Danny Healy Rae.
And Deputy Collins blasted the government for laying claim to a reduction of 3,100 people on the waiting list for cataract operations over the last 13 months.
Deputy Collins says the figure, which was announced in a self-congratulatory press release by the Department of Health last weekend, ‘glosses over’ the reality of the situation on the ground.
Responding to the lengthy waiting lists in West Cork and Kerry, Deputies Collins and Healy Rae felt compelled to organise the regular bus service to the Kingsbridge Private Hospital in Belfast this time last year.
And, after an article appeared in The Southern Star last November, highlighting 90-year old John Patrick Harrington’s 600-mile journey north for his life-changing cataract operation, the two Dail deputies were inundated with local queries.
This week, Deputy Collins said it was ‘no wonder’ the waiting list figures were down when an estimated 2,200 of these people had the procedure done outside the State as part of the Cross Border Directive – an initiative that allows each person recoup the cost from the Health Service Executive.
In 2014, before details of the Cross Border Directive were widely known, only seven people had availed of it, said the Goleen TD.
Deputy Collins said that he and Deputy Healy Rae have now helped 250 people travel north on 16 of the so-called ‘cataract express’ buses for surgery, and another 50 people will be travelling on three more buses before Christmas.
And he said that they have now broadened the service to include people who need to travel north to meet consultants about hip and knee replacements, as well as other surgical procedures, such as tonsillitis and treatment for carpel tunnel syndrome.
Already, he said, they have helped 35 of these people secure treatment for hip operations, and an additional 20 who have had knee surgery.
Deputy Collins described a €1m investment in a new cataract centre at Nenagh Hospital – which opened earlier this week – as ‘long overdue’ and he said he has written to Minister Harris asking him to make a similar investment in Bantry General Hospital.
Last Sunday Minister Simon Harris said: ‘This year has seen ongoing improvements to waiting lists numbers and notably across particular procedures including cataracts. While the improvements in overall numbers waiting for a cataract procedure have seen sustained improvements, these are all the more notable when the numbers waiting over nine months are taken into account. These have fallen by 80% since July 2017.’